Chris Norton: Ready to Play a Pivotal Role

The channel needs to embrace the cloud and build new practices to help customers make the journey from the virtualised environments of today to the transformed IT infrastructures that public, private and hybrid clouds make possible, says Chris Norton, regional director, Southern Africa, VMware.

Q:  How do you see that journey from virtualisation to cloud unfolding for customers and for resellers?

A: The concept of virtualisation is well understood and while it really started before today’s cloud computing model was even talked about, it is part of the same journey – it is the first step in the transformation of IT.

Chris Norton, Regional Director for VMware SA

The initial drivers for virtualisation have been consolidation and saving money; now however organisations are also focusing on how IT can deliver a better service to the business by making business-critical applications more agile and available and by transforming business processes and the end-user experience, delivering IT as a Service.

Customers want to go on that journey; partners who want to benefit from these tremendous opportunities also need to embrace the cloud.


Q: How are you enabling partners to do that?

A: First and foremost the products and services that VMware and its ecosystem of partners are bringing to market – around the core cloud infrastructure of vSphere, and solutions that help manage and secure cloud environments – and the programmes we are developing are all aimed at enabling our reseller partners, giving them the technologies and resources they need to take customers to that next stage.

Q: Where do you think resellers should be positioning themselves within the cloud market? Should they be aggregators, enablers or provider their own cloud services – or perhaps a mix of all of these?

A: We have thought about this quite deeply and identified six ways in which the IT channel can take advantage of and harness private and public clouds and thus enable business transformation for customers. They can deploy private clouds for customers; deploy and/or manage private clouds; or partner with service providers to resell cloud services.

They can assist with migration to a hybrid cloud – which might necessitate both deploying and managing both private and public clouds, and bringing them together to meet customer requirements; they can build and resell their own private cloud offerings; or they can enable the transformation of end-user computing by building applications on top of the cloud and migrating customers to those solutions.

That might sound like a complicated set of options but it’s really quite straightforward when you look at it. Put simply, resellers can simple resell the public or private cloud services that others provide and not get involved any further; or become developers and builders of cloud applications services themselves – or anything in between.

Q: So what specific programmes do you have in place to help resellers take customers to the next stage on the journey to the cloud?

A: This is one of the most exciting areas of the VMware partner program (VPN). We have a very clear solutions competency roadmap that will enable partners to develop skills around the virtualisation of business-critical applications, cloud applications platforms and cloud infrastructure and management.

We have Solution Enablement Toolkits that are aligned to these competencies – for virtualising Microsoft Exchange on VMware and SQL on VMware for example, and for business continuity and desktop virtualisation. On top of all this we have a very generous system of incentives and rewards.

Let me give you two examples: Advantage+ is our opportunity registration reward to protect the investment in a customer project. The VMware Solution reward offer incremental value for partners that invest in value-creation around VMware product and solution sales practices.

Q: In the cloud era, how will being a VMware partner help resellers to differentiate? 

A: We are giving partners the opportunity to create a level of specialism in terms of how they look at end-user computing, at cloud infrastructure and management and at cloud applications platforms.

We’re providing the resources and tools that enable partners to develop the skills they need in these areas. We’re also looking to get partners involved in Cloud Foundry, our Platform as a Service offering and at how we can link partners to the ISVs that are part of our Technology Alliance Programme. You’ll see much more activity from us in this area over the next few months.

Q: Who are your ‘ecosystem’ partners?

A: We have established partnerships with more than 1 300 technology and consulting suppliers – companies like SAP, NetApp, EMC, Cisco, HP, DELL, IBM and Intel – with whom we share information and collaborate. We have also developed relationships with more than 2 600 cloud service provider partners globally such as Colt, Verizon and Sungard, and we have more than 25 000 solution providers (resellers) worldwide.

Together, these partners make up an ecosystem that can provides all the platforms and services, along with the strategic consultancy and management that customers need in order to successfully transition to cloud-based infrastructures.

We depend on our reselling partners (solution providers) to bring the platforms and services together and combine them with their own capabilities to enable solutions for the customer. So you can see that this ecosystem is absolutely fundamental to our strategy and to customers and something that we will continue to develop and evolve.

Q: Where do to see the biggest opportunities for your partners?

A: We believe that there is a huge services opportunity surrounding cloud computing. To take full advantage, we believe our partners will need to invest in building their skills and competencies. VMware provides the infrastructure layer that allows compatibility across the hybrid cloud and vSphere is the critical component. How we then manage and secure those private and hybrid clouds using our software tools is very important and this is where a large opportunity lies for the channel and how they can add value for their customers.

Also, as consumer devices such as iPhones, iPads and other tablets are coming into the enterprise there is a need to develop a strategy around End-User Computing. Customers need to be able to deliver applications to devices securely and efficiently, controlling user’s access to applications and their specific requirements, in a way that is in line with corporate policy.

Q: Do resellers need to take a different kind of approach when they talk to customers about re-thinking end-user computing?

A: VMware’s virtualisation value proposition has been very compelling and strong – virtual infrastructure saves customers money and gives them great flexibility and agility. The end-user computing proposition requires more consideration and needs to be articulated in a different way.

Resellers will need to consult more and sell the benefits in a much broader way. Rather than a simple ROI conversation, they need to be talking about the organisational and customer service benefits and the management and security benefits.

The ‘consumerisation of IT’ is not likely to come off the agenda though as the objective for companies today is to provide staff with access to whatever business applications they need on whatever device they have. Flexibility and freedom are the end result; issues of security and control must be overcome to progress this.

Q: What do you need your partners to do in order to be ready to take advantage of these opportunities?

A: We need our partners to invest in enabling both their sales teams and their technical specialists to get a real understanding of the technology and the processes and to invest in the skills sets for desktop virtualisation and user access, infrastructure as a service, business continuity and enterprise management.

Q: Is it all about the cloud now? Do we need to leave virtualisation behind?

A: No, there are still a lot of customers that have not started the journey yet – particularly in the SMB market. VMware has a dual strategy here: take existing customers and progress them towards IT as a Service, but not forgetting about those customers that are still in the early stages.

In fact we have a real focus on SMBs going forward. Helping small organisations to take the first steps to embracing the benefits of a virtualised environment is critical. Announced at VMworld Europe, we have introduced both SaaS and on-premise service offerings targeted specifically at SMBs.

VMware now has SMB specific propositions for Infrastructure Virtualisation, Disaster Recovery, Management and Automation as well as the recently introduced Storage Virtualisation. Overall, this is a very exciting time for SMB customers, partners and VMware as we collectively expand the benefits and adoption of a virtualised world.

Q: Where would you like VMware and its partner network to be 12 months from now?

A: We will want to see a more differentiated channel and a far more segmented ecosystem which is enabled and ready to take customers on that transformational journey. We will also see our channel collaborating more with the large number of service providers building their cloud on VMware technology.

We expect to see some of our channel partners building their own public cloud services, with VMware cloud infrastructure solutions as the foundation. Last but not least the channel will need to continue to acquire new SMB customers, expanding the adoption of virtualisation.

Q: How far-reaching or transformation do you believe the cloud opportunity is for VMware and the channel itself?

A: We’ve got an opportunity and our partners have the opportunity – to go much deeper and far broader with their customers than we ever have before, to embrace the cloud and take customers on the journey from virtualisation to the cloud infrastructures that will transform their business processes and the end-user experience.

It really is, in our view, the very beginning of a new and very important stage in the development of IT and one in which VMware and its partners can play a pivotal role in transforming how organisations develop, use and consume IT.